Interviewing Assad: What is the point?

In a recent interview with AP, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was asked about accusations of violations of human rights and the use of barrel bombs. He replied: “When they talk about barrel bombs, what are barrel bombs? It’s just a title they use in order to show something which is very evil that could kill people indiscriminately.”


A few hours after the interview, Aleppo experienced an unprecedented attack using barrel bombs and missiles. It was one of the city’s most difficult and bloody nights. It has been several years, and the answers have not changed. “We didn’t shell aid convoys. We didn’t kill anyone. It’s the armed gangs. It’s an international conspiracy.”

Interviewers and the public have received so many empty answers that everyone recognizes that interviewing Assad, in the journalistic sense, will provide nothing new. Despite this, agencies and journalists still seek these interviews. It is no longer possible to overlook the increased interest of Western media outlets in interviewing Assad, who does not hesitate to accept being interviewed, and is rather passionate about appearing before the world.


Interviews risk becoming a promotional tool, rather than holding someone accountable or exposing wrongdoing, as the case should be
Diana Moukalled

He is not embarrassed by any question asked, as long as he can tamper with answers and reach a wide audience inside and outside Syria. More importantly, there are no consequences to any of his statements, no matter how strange, untrue or rude they are.

We can even say Assad knows deep inside that even if he admits his responsibility for all this murder and death, the world will not do anything about it, and everyone will continue seeking to interview him, and perhaps even thank him for his hospitality by the end of the interview.


It is time that major Western media outlets ask themselves a professional and moral question: What is the point of interviewing a tyrant murderer if it is not to reach some sort of conclusion? Journalistic work allows for interviewing evil people and wrongdoers, but this has sensitive standards that take into consideration morals as well as the profession.

Interviews risk becoming a promotional tool, rather than holding someone accountable or exposing wrongdoing, as the case should be. Do these Western journalists who interview Assad not ask themselves why they go to Syria to try to decode his absurd answers?

During a TV interview last week, Bouthaina Shaaban, Assad’s political and media advisor, also gave absurd answers as she spoke of conspiracies and terrorism, and used the same empty terms Assad repeats. She adopted a scolding approach, and rudely responded to the interviewer, treating her as if she represented Western colonialism, and as if Syria is the only country that opposes it.

It is with this simplicity and tampering with words by regime officials that the deadly shelling of Aleppo, demographic threats and international polarization become meaningless facts. In such cases, the excuse of “the opinion and the other opinion” no longer justifies these interviews. This excuse has become very offensive.

Assad, it seems, has managed to normalize relations with the world - one of the essential tools in achieving this is such interviews.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Sept. 19, 2016.
Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

Friday, September 30th 2016
Diana Moukalled

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